(directed by Richard Linklater, 2013)
***+ (out of 5)
> This third film in Richard Linklater’s relationship trilogy, (after 1995’s BEFORE SUNRISE and 2004’s BEFORE SUNSET), continues the life adventures of Jesse and Celine, deftly portrayed by capable actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy, who share screenwriting credit with Linklater for dialogue they developed in improvisation.
. When it works (as in most of the film) it works very, very well, showing us a window into the ecstasies and torments of partnership in the modern world. When it fails, as I thought it did at the end, it crashes and burns in a spectacular fashion. The problem with the ending: unlike most of what came before it, it just does not feel real, honest and truthful, but seems contrived, forced, artificial- when deep divisions in their marriage are conveniently and improbably papered over for the expedience of finding a good ending. Critics absolutely loved this film. (9.3 is one of the highest Critical Consensus ratings I’ve ever seen!) I can see why. These actors are so good together- their banter is so naturalistic and believable (except when it isn’t…), they are so appealing, complicated, flawed, and empathetic. But several reviews I read really annoyed me on a deep level. In their criticisms of the female character, they seemed to articulate a latent hostility toward women. These male critics opined that they just didn’t understand the allure of Julie Delphy’s Celine because she was such a “manipulative, controlling bitch” they could not buy Jesse’s love and devotion to her, especially as she seemed to them “intent on undermining, demeaning and humiliating him at every turn”.
. We’re we watching the same movie?
. Before the final reel, I didn’t see this at all. I saw a desirable, breathtakingly beautiful woman with a fierce intellect and a sense of humor, who was a vital, sexy, complicated human being (like all of us!), not the controlling harpy portrayed in these misogynistic reviews. Clearly, these critics feel threatened by strong women and prefer to be the dominating controller in their love affairs. They could look right at the male character and not see his glaring flaws, yet failed to see the undeniable lovability and charm of the female character. I liked all three of these films- a lot. It’s hard to write honestly about male/female relationships, and at their best, these films achieve an honesty and truthfulness that is rarely seen in relationship films.
. At their worst however, they are trite, manipulative, cynical, and too intellectual for their own good. Unfortunately, this wonderful film succumbs in the final scene to a conflict that feels forced, too convenient and too easily and artificially resolved. I would have given this third installment of the series 4½ stars if the final scene were as good as everything that came before it. Unfortunately, it did not come close, leaving a bit of a bitter taste in what would otherwise have been a delicious feast of a movie.
. Will there be a fourth installment in the saga? Wouldn’t surprise me. Each chapter in the saga catches these characters at a crossroads in human life-stages, and has something to say about its time and their generation. The characters have young kids now. There are lots more interesting changes to come, from the coming empty-nest to the bittersweet “golden years”. This creative trio that works so well together may have more good work left in them. I just hope they hold themselves to the high standards of the bulk of the trilogy and not the forced artificiality of the ending of part three.
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